Inside a Bribery Probe at Storied Architecture Firm HLW

By JOE PALAZZOLO and CHRISTOPHER M. MATTHEWSThe Wall Street Journal

At a cafe in Abu Dhabi, two men met and discussed a bribe.

One worked for Cyril Sweett International Ltd., a U.K.-based company managing the construction of a $100 million hospital in Morocco. The other worked for the architecture firm HLW International LLP, which was vying for a $5.6 million contract to design the hospital.

[image]Sweett Group

HLW won a contract to design a hospital, pictured, in Morocco.

The Cyril Sweett executive had come with a message: HLW would get the work if it agreed to pay 3.5% of the contract value to an official inside the United Arab Emirates president’s personal foundation, which was funding the project.

The May 2010 meeting, described in internal HLW documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, offers a rare, inside look at one company’s efforts to expand in a new market overseas without exposing itself to liability under a U.S. anticorruption law that has cost American companies billions of dollars in penalties in recent years.

The allegations of corruption within the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation come amid a UAE government push for stronger local laws to counteract a culture of patronage in which giving gifts to government officials is part of doing business. The documents suggest that HLW was one of several firms pressured to pay bribes in connection with projects funded by the foundation, which is named after the UAE’s president.

HLW, whose commissions include the old New York Times Building in New York and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., traces its U.S. roots to 1885. When the recession hit in the U.S. in 2008, it looked to the Middle East for opportunities, deciding to establish an office in Abu Dhabi. The Morocco hospital, a 200-bed facility still under construction in Casablanca, was HLW’s first major contract since its return to the region, a former executive says. READ MORE

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About Alexander Gordin
An international merchant banking professional with over twenty years of business operating and advisory experience in the areas of export finance, international project finance, risk mitigation and cross-border business development. Clients include foreign governments, municipalities and state enterprises as well as Fortune 500 and small/medium enterprises. Strong entrepreneurial instincts, combined with leadership and strategic skills. Transactional and negotiations experience in over thirty five countries. Author of the highly acclaimed "Fluent in Foreign Business" book and creator of the "Fluent in OPIC", "Fluent in EXIM","Fluent In Foreign Franchising", "Fluent in FCPA",and "Fluent in USTDA" seminar/webinar series. Currently developing "Fluent In ......" seminars and publications. Co-author of the Fi3 Country Business Appeal Indices. Extensive international business development and project finance transaction experience in healthcare, aerospace, ICT, conventional and alternative energy infrastructure, distribution and hospitality industries. Experience managing international public and private corporations. Co-Founded three companies abroad. Strong Emerging and Frontier Market expertise. Published and featured in numerous publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Knowledge@Wharton, NBC.com, The Chicago Tribune, Industry Week, Industry Today, Business Finance, Wharton Magazine Blog, NY Enterprise Report, Success magazine, Kyiv Post and on a number of radio and television programs including: Voice of America, CNBC, CNNfn, and Bloomberg. Frequent speaker on strategy, cross-border finance and international business development. Executive MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. B.S. in Management of Information Systems from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Specialties Strategic Management Advisory, Export Finance, International Project Finance & Risk Management, Cross-border Negotiations, Structured Finance transactions, Senior Government and Corporate officials liason

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